It is important to exercise and eat a healthy diet during pregnancy to stay strong and replenish lost energy. But you should also practise relaxation and breathing exercises. Consider taking a yoga or birth preparation course.
Some of the exercises can be done on your own, such as relaxation techniques and yoga. Others, such as massage and breathing exercises, can be practised with your partner or the person who will support you during labour.
Breathing exercises or birth preparation
Breathing exercises are a great way of preparing for labour and helping you through it.
There are many breathing exercises that you can try. Ask your midwife to recommend a method, or join a birth preparation course where you will learn techniques to help you through labour.
If possible, practise with your partner or a friend, who can then coach you during your labour. It's easy to lose your focus when the pain starts.
Relaxation techniques or yoga for pregnant women
Relaxation is an effective form of pain relief, but in many cases it takes a little practice. Especially in order to do it in an uncomfortable situation, like during labour when you are in pain and maybe also stressed.
Some women try yoga, while others choose other methods such as massage or birth breathing technique.
You can try this simple exercise straight away:
Lie in a comfortable position with cushions to support you.
Take a deep breath and notice your muscles relaxing.
Tense the muscles in your feet for a few seconds, then relax them.
Tense your legs. Now relax them. Feel the difference.
Work upwards through your body, part by part.
You can also start with your right foot, right leg etc. and work up from there. After you have relaxed all your facial muscles and then the muscles around your head, work your way down the other side.
Notice yourself feeling increasingly heavy and relaxed.
You might choose to listen to some relaxing music during the exercise.
This type of calm, harmonious relaxation will probably have the same beneficial effect on the baby as on yourself. If you practise until you can easily find that secure, heavy feeling, you can use this technique later to manage your labour pains.
Massage as pain relief
Massage creates intimacy and relieves pain. Although the ultimate objective isn't to work on your muscles, the increased blood circulation can ease the tensions and contractions that can arise during pregnancy. Use a slightly softer touch than usual and massage the parts of the body that make you feel better.
During labour, this type of massage can help shift your focus from the pain.
Combined with comfortable labour position or a warm bath, massage can provide relaxation and relief when your body is in pain.
Many maternity wards offer the opportunity to sit in a warm bath or shower in the initial stages of labour.
Write a birth plan
Another way to prepare for the birth is to read information, find out about your pain relief options and define your own wishes and preferences.
It can be useful to write a birth plan, a letter describing what you are like as a person and what you want to happen during the labour. It is not always easy to communicate your preferences once labour really kicks in, so it can be useful to formulate your wishes in advance.